For today’s “Pocket Music Monday” we are going to talk about the Buddha Machine by FM3. First off, what is the Buddha Machine?
Taken from http://www.fm3buddhamachine.com/:
The Buddha Machine is a small plastic box that plays meditative music composed by Christiaan Virant and Zhang Jian.
Doesn’t sound like much does it? Well I assure you, this little guy is very cool indeed. I have the 2nd model out of three made by FM3, not including some special editions over the years. This particular Buddha Machine, the II, has 9 looping short tracks, a small volume knob, a built in speaker, and a speed control to alter the music’s pitch and speed. It also had a headphone jack, but I think using it reduces the charm of the device. Perhaps it it useful when if recording or sampling your Buddha Machine.
So what is so neat about this little gadget? I again refer to my gravitation to lo-fi sounds, as this cheaply made little plastic box just screams lo-fi charm. The tinny speaker seems to crackle and spit at you, whether by nature of the recording or the hardware I don’t know. The music pieces themselves are nicely varied, interesting, and decidedly meditative. They range from somber drones to stringed twangs and melancholy piano strikes. All in all, you can easily become lost in each piece, though repetitious, as either an active or passive listener. I have used my little Buddha Machine II for ambient background, as a lullaby, for concentration, and for meditation.
The music is so captivating that there are many artists who have done entire remix albums of the pieces. The tones and textures when manipulated can lead to some impressive soundscapes. Others have taken the simple device to the soldering table, circuit bending and altering it in wildly imaginative ways to create strange sounds and drones.
This track was made by “reducing” or cutting up the sounds of a Buddha Machine II’s loops, and adding some crisp delay and stereo effects:
All in all, this little box is mystifying. I think some of this is due to the music itself, but a lot has to do with the portability and simple form factor. Something about the actual hardware makes it special, despite (and maybe because of) the cheapness of quality. You can certainly find the audio tracks online or listen to them looped from a “Buddha Machine iPhone App.” But don’t. There is a huge difference in this day and age of audio fidelity and computers and smartphones and the days not too long ago when a crackling radio was groundbreaking. Sometimes going back a little bit proves to be a more rewarding and engaging journey than we’d imagine.
If you have a chance to play with a Buddha Machine, do it. If you have one, take it with you.